My first job as an architect

Getting the opportunity

It was October 2013, and Diwali was around the corner, AND my marriage date was to be fixed in 3 days. In spite of the rush and anxiety happening around, I was awaiting a call since 2 days. My mind was transfixed on the mobile screen, hoping for the call. They say you have to wait for ‘the one’, and that is exactly what I was doing. I didn’t know it applied to jobs too, until now.

Confused? Rewind. October 2013. I was a freshly brewed Architect, in the batches of Architects that are dispatched into the glorious and magnificent architectural scene every year! I had been applying for jobs since July and even in four months, I hadn’t found the right one. The reasons as to WHY either the firm rejected me or I rejected the firm, were

  • A little weirdo for a would-be-boss who asked why I needed a salary (yes, really)
  • Inconvenient location (I happened to stay in PCMC i.e. a town that’s a bit too far from Pune)
  • Work profile (Working in a firm with a profile which isn’t right for you might be like sowing apple seeds if you are expecting oranges to grow)
  • Position (There is a tiny difference between a junior Architect and a draftsman)

and so on!

And just as I was thinking of applying to few more prospects, I received a call. A call from one of the partners at an office where I had given an interview 2 days back. I had really loved the workplace! Reasons? Their work profile was something I loved. The office location was perfect. But most importantly, one of the partners was honest enough to tell me that if I was looking for a corporate structure their office wasn’t the one, that they were a small 3-year-old firm with a sizeable portfolio of work. Instead of painting a rosy picture that wasn’t them, they were true to what they were. And I am a big fan of people who tell it like it is, like most of us are! So these guys said that I could join their office immediately post Diwali. And 2013 Diwali was one of the happiest I ever had in years!

The first day of office

It was day one. I had no work for the first half and I went into an overthinking mode where I thought if asking for work was also an undisclosed task. So at 12:15PM I barged into the boss’ cabin and asked them if I could help them. I was given a seemingly easy task of designing interiors for a 3BHK which turned out to be in feet and inches. It looked difficult because I had been trained for the millimetre drawings in my college and in my internship. It took me a week to become well versed in the unit conversions where I understood that you need to be super flexible because you may draft a design in millimetres for accuracy. But if your vendor understands the feet and inches, and you have to draft the working drawings for him in his preferred language.

My first site visit

It had been a month, and I was very happy with my job and the people! One day, as I was working, my boss told me that I would be accompanying him to an under construction bungalow for a site visit. I was absolutely thrilled and couldn’t contain my excitement as I jumped into the car wondering how the drawings and 3D renders on paper would be looking in real!

But funnily enough, the real surprise was waiting for us on the site. So our client happened to be a retired army officer who had was going to shift his base to Pune. The client’s wife, an art enthusiast, had procured some 22 odd hand carved wooden window and door frames for the bungalow, which she had specially flown in from Gujarat. As beautiful as they were, they also posed the question as to ‘Where would they go’? Our team had to sit on site, and alter the working drawings right there, measuring each and every window and door size to see which of the 22 frames would fit in the slot the best, and then alter the interiors and the elevations as per the change. This was my ‘aisa bhi hota hai’ moment where I learnt that clients can come in with unpredictable dreams and expectations. But instead of mocking them or saying a blatant ‘NO’, an Architect should go the extra mile to see the client’s dream come true. After all, this may be the only home they will ever invest so much into, and it is our job to make it their dream home!

The first material selection

After six months, I was entrusted with a massive responsibility. We had overflowing work, and my boss told me to look after a new site! It was a 1000 sqft office design, which I was to design totally on my own. With this, came the most exciting part of the work, material selection for the finishes.  Laminates, wallpapers, wooden flooring samples and so on! I remember sitting on the office floor, with our 2 interns with at least 15 catalogues scattered around us, explaining to them how to see which sample matches with the 3D renders. The variety in the market astonished us, and we ended up having the classiest of all materials selected for the project. I made a neat presentation and walked into the boss’ cabin only to get a ‘redo’ on the entire work in the next 5 minutes! Reason being I had been completely oblivious to the fact that none of the materials matched the estimate given to the client. This one day was enough for me to come out of my whims and fancies and know that you CANNOT expect the clients to pay more, when they have agreed on the estimate and HENCE, entrusted the work to you!

Goofups and more goof-ups!

The long bridge between academics and practical knowledge is a string of goof-ups, silly mistakes and huge blunders! I have had the privilege of crossing this bridge when I was working in my office! These are few building blocks of the bridge as I remember them:

  • Contour maps without mentioning the levels.
  • Forgetting to rotate a furniture block in the plan. So a chair is facing the blank wall.
  • Forgetting to edit the client name from the previous one on the layout sheet.
  • Not mentioning the scale on the plan
  • Not mentioning the North.

and so on!

Office sanskar

Just as a kid’s upbringing reflects on his entire life, I feel that how you are mentored in an office in your starting years shapes you up for the next phase in your architectural journey. There are so many things which we learn when we work in an office, and if you have the right set of mentors, you sail through smoothly without suffering mild bouts of low self-esteem! At our office, we had a professional hierarchy, but it never came in between our interactions. Everyone was a friend for one another and that is the reason we were more like a team and not a typical corporate office. We celebrated birthdays, festivals where we went to office parties over food and drinks to the best of restaurants in Pune.

I always looked ahead to the tea break every day because we visited the local tea stall and had brainstorming sessions over tea!

Bidding goodbye

By the time I looked back, I hadn’t realised had completed ONE long year at the office! It was a time where I felt like moving ahead and setting up my own practice. I had few small enquiries and I didn’t want to let them go. It was with a heavy heart that I mailed my resignation letter and decided to leave the office.

I would be missing working there. After a long day at work, as I travelled back to my home, that one hour of traffic and chaos still took me to a state of mental peace where I was happy and satisfied. But one thing which I learnt from my employers was that ‘Treat your customers the way you want to be treated as a customer’ and I do follow it on my regular day of practice. It has been almost three and a half years since I left the job. But I can still smell the fresh smell of leaves of the Banyan tree which greeted me every morning.

They say that your first job is a lot like your first love… adventurous and magical, yet sometimes frustrating but priceless in hindsight! And I am glad that I have totally experienced it, thanks to the wonderful team I was lucky to have!


About the author:

Tejashri Deshpande, an Architect by profession and an animal lover by obsession, has her own design practice in Pune by the name of Design Doobki.

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